Becoming a Researcher: Making the Transition to Graduate School

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Abstract: Entering a graduate research program in the sciences or social sciences—including the many fields that contribute to ethnobiology—requires a fundamental transition from being an undergraduate learner to becoming an independent, investigative thinker. The transition requires moving from structured learning using prompts for reading, writing, and exam-taking to an unstructured environment in which one is expected to know a field of study, identify significant research problems, acquire one or another form of data, and answer questions using skills and expertise to fill a gap in knowledge that is reported in a thesis or dissertation. An independent researcher can undertake the whole research process without prompts and has acquired the skills and knowledge to make contributions in a field of study. Faculty members and students often assume that gifted undergraduates have research skills, an assumption that students will be able to “figure it out when they enter graduate school.” The premise of this book is that students do not have independent research skills at the beginning of graduate programs; indeed, the purpose of graduate education is to gain and hone those skills. Although there are many books about designing research, what makes Becoming a Researcher unique is its focus on this transition from structured learning to independent research. The book offers exercises on routine setting, time management, peer review, developing areas of research interest, and essay writing to focus on research topics and questions. Those exercises, moreover, are threaded within narrative about how to become a researcher, particularly concerning new habits and mindsets that must be adopted to succeed during the graduate career. Late in the book, lessons from the exercises are put into action to help students build products that lead to achieving milestones during the first year of their graduate program, particularly the design of a research proposal. At the end of the first year of graduate school, students should be well on their way to becoming a researcher.


  • Preface
  • Chapter 1: Becoming a Researcher
  • Chapter 2: Time
  • Chapter 3: Zooming in to the Research Topic
  • Chapter 4: The Support Network
  • Chapter 5: The Research Question
  • Chapter 6: The Literature Review
  • Chapter 7: The Proposal Storyboard
  • Chapter 8: The Proposal Defense
  • Conclusion
  • Sources
  • Appendix 1: Exercises
  • Appendix 2: Student Handbook – UNT Masters of Science in Geography
  • Appendix 3: Research Product Assignments